Jack Johnson is considered to be the first African American heavyweight boxing champion. Johnson was also well-known for his relationships with white women. In a pre-Loving v. Virginia world, these relationships landed him in legal trouble, and an amorous encounter eventually landed him in prison. Now, 72 years after his death, President Donald Trump has granted the historic champion a pardon.
According to USA TODAY, Johnson's advocates have been pushing for a pardon for 14 years. Their efforts began in the George W. Bush administration and continued through the Barack Obama administration.
Interestingly enough, it was a phone call from Sylvester Stallone that led to the pardon finally being granted. The actor, best known for portraying boxer Rocky Balboa, called Trump urging him to grant the pardon.
"He was treated so unfairly, his prime was taken away, but somehow he managed to keep his pride," Stallone said.
Stallone attended the surprise pardoning ceremony at the Oval Office along with former champion Lennox Lewis and World Boxing Council president Mauricio Sulaiman.
Johnson's 1908 fight with Tommy Burns and his 1910 title defense against former champion Jim Jefferies broke color barriers in the sport, with the latter especially creating significant racial unrest.
Johnson's penchant for dating white women led to a lot of trouble for the famed boxer.
He married three white women, and the mother of his second wife, Lucille Cameron, accused him of kidnapping her. He faced federal charges in Chicago, but they were later dropped when Cameron didn't press charges. Additionally, Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act due to his involvement with an alleged prostitute, Belle Schreiber. The Mann Act was passed by Congress to fight human trafficking but wasn't intended to include consensual sexual relationships.
Johnson fled the U.S. and spent seven years in exile in Canada, Europe and Mexico during World War I. During his time away from the U.S., Johnson lost his heavyweight champion title to Jess Willard in Cuba. His federal conviction also prevented him from fighting in many states. His last work included vaudeville performing and coaching.
He later returned to the country to serve his one-year sentence at Leavenworth prison in Kansas.
Johnson, an avid car and racing fan, died in an automobile accident in 1946.